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Incident of Saqifa

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Early Islam
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Event of Saqīfa Banī Sāʿida (Arabic: وَقعَة سَقیفَة بَني ساعِدَة) refers to the allegiance of some Muslims to Abu Bakr as the caliph after Prophet Muhammad's (s) demise. No one from Banu Hashim and Ahl al-Bayt (a) was present in the event, as Ali b. Abi Talib (a) who was already announced by the Prophet (s) as his successor, was by the Prophet's (s) corpse, handling the funeral, when the event of Saqifa was taking place. Some Muhajirun (Muslims who had migrated from Mecca to Medina) went to Saqifa Banu Sa'ida in which some of Ansar had already gathered to announce Sa'd b. 'Ubada their leader.

The event took place in 11/632 in Saqifa Bani Sa'ida. The allegiance to Abu Bakr remained subject to controversies and disputes in Medina for a while; it was refused by some Sahaba. The Shiites (followers) of Imam Ali (a) considered Abu Bakr's caliphate to be against the Prophet's (s) commands and will, in Ghadir Khumm; thus they took it to be a usurpation of Imam Ali's (a) right to the position of caliphate. According to Shiites, the allegiance to Abu Bakr was a deviation from the right path of Islam.



Main article: Saqifa Bani Sa'ida

Saqifa Bani Sa'ida was a place owned by the Banu Sa'ida b. Ka'b b. Khazraj clan, and it was located near al-Masjid al-Nabawi. The place had a historical prominence among Arabs. Saqifa was located on the west side of the Prophet's (s) Mosque near the Bida'a well. Sa'd b. 'Ubada who was Ansar's candidate for caliphate lived near Saqifa.


According to Sunni sources, the Prophet (s) passed away on Monday Rabi' I 12/June 10, 632, and according to Shiite sources, he (s) passed away on Monday, Safar 28, 11 (May 28, 632). The news about the Prophet's (s) demise was soon circulated around the then small city of Medina, and some people immediately started campaigns to introduce a successor or caliph for the Prophet (s), while 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a), Fadl b. 'Abbas and some others were engaged in the ritual washing of the Prophet's (s) corpse.

Ansar's Assembly in Saqifa Bani Sa'ida

Shia Islam

Sa'd b. 'Ubada—the leader of Khazraj—who was sick and had a fever, gave a speech among some people of Ansar (Aws and Khazraj) in Saqifa Bani Sa'ida about the virtues of Ansar and their advantages over Muhajirun. It is said that such speeches in those conditions were supposed to be against activities by some Muhajirun, rather than against the Prophet's (s) will (such as Hadith Yawm al-Dar, Hadith al-Manzila, and Ghadir al-Khumm). Ansar assembled in Saqifa Bani Sa'ida in order to protect their own position, but they instead led to the greatest sedition throughout the history of Islam that gave rise to a lot of chaos in the Islamic community.

'Umar b. al-Khattab's Decision

There are different accounts of where Abu Bakr was when the Prophet (s) passed away, but on the most widely accepted view, he was in Sanh, where Salim b. 'Ubayd gave him the news of the Prophet's (s) demise.

On this account, when Abu Bakr arrived in the Mosque, 'Umar b. al-Khattab was standing among people, and was angry at people who were talking about the Prophet's (s) demise, calling them hypocrites and threatening them to death. When Abu Bakr went to the Prophet's (s) house, he removed the cloth that was on his face, kissed the point between his two eyes, and then went to the Mosque, asking 'Umar to calm down. He then appealed to a verse of the Qur'an and confirmed the news about the Prophet's (s) demise.

Some scholars believe that 'Umar knew about the Prophet's (s) demise, but he denied it so that no person other than the one he had in mind (that is, Abu Bakr) becomes the caliph. What supports this hypothesis is that 'Umar withdrew his denial when Abu Bakr confirmed the news.

On some accounts, it is probable that Abu Bakr, 'Umar, and Abu 'Ubayda al-Jarrah consulted about the selection of the Prophet's (s) successor in Abu 'Ubayda's house before they learned about, and joined Ansar's assembly in Saqifa.

The news about what happened in Saqifa Bani Sa'ida, and verbal exchanges between Muhajirun and Ansar is well known. According to sources, Abu Bakr's selection happened among a lot of quarrels and disputes such that Habab b. Mundhir, from Ansar, drew his sword against Muhajirun, and Sa'd b. 'Ubada was nearly trampled by disputing people. 'Umar b. al-Khattab reported the quarrels in the event in a speech he delivered during his caliphate in Medina, and 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas, who was present in his speech, confirmed 'Umar's report. This historical document is reported by Ibn Hisham, al-Tabari, Ibn Hibban and others. According to this speech and other sources, the tensions were assuaged by Abu Bakr's intervention and by taking the sick Sa'd b. 'Ubada out from Saqifa.

Ansar's and Muhajirun's Arguments

There was a quarrel between Muhajirun and Ansar over the succession (khilafa or caliphate) of the Prophet (s). Each group argued that the caliph should be selected from among them because of their virtues and advantages over the other party.

In the event of Saqifa Bani Sa'ida, Sa'd b. 'Ubada delivered a speech for people and praised people of Ansar and their virtues and services for Islam. He then claimed that the Prophet's (s) caliph should be from Ansar. After his speech, people of Ansar wanted to pledge their allegiance to Sa'd b. 'Ubada. But some of them raised the question of what to say to Muhajirun if they oppose Sa'd b. 'Ubada's caliphate. Thus they decided to offer the suggestion of electing a ruler from Muhajirun and another from Ansar.

However, Abu Bakr, 'Umar b. al-Khattab, and Abu 'Ubayda al-Jarrah turned people's attentions away from Sa'd b. 'Ubada, and invited them to pledge their allegiance to Abu Bakr as the caliph. 'Umar rejected the suggestion of one ruler from Muhajirun and another from Ansar on the grounds that one cannot place two swords in one scabbard, and people of Arab will not obey two rulers.

Upon the rejection of this suggestion, each of the two groups (Muhajirun and Ansar) enumerated their own virtues, records and services to Islam, and finally Muhajirun defeated Ansar in this debate. Thus 'Umar asked people to pledge their allegiance to Abu Bakr.

The argument made by people of Quraysh for the claim that they were qualified for the succession of the Prophet (s) was that the Prophet (s) was from the Quraysh, and thus they were branches of the same tree that the Prophet (s) belonged to.

In his exposition of the 65th sermon of Nahj al-balagha, Ibn Abi l-Hadid says: 'Umar told Ansar: "Arabs will never be happy with your rule, since the Prophet (s) is not from your tribe, but they will definitely accept the rule of a person from the Prophet's (s) tribe. Who can oppose us, the relatives of the Prophet (s), in his succession and the heritage?"

Reasons for Abu Bakr's victory in Saqifa

  • The tribal rivalries among different clans of the Quraysh (Muhajirun, especially Banu Hashim, Banu Umayya, and Banu Makhzum) made it easier to accept the leadership of someone like Abu Bakr who was from the less significant clan of Banu Tamim. For because of their insignificant place among the dominant clans of the Quraysh, Banu Tamim never took part in the battles and political quarrels that had frustrated people, and thus it was less controversial and contentious to elect someone as neutral as Abu Bakr.
  • The old hostility between Aws and Khazraj and their tribal competitions made it more difficult for a person from Ansar to be elected as the caliph and thus the path was paved for Abu Bakr's caliphate.
  • The engagement of Imam Ali (a), 'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Muttalib and other seniors of Banu Hashim with the washing and shrouding rituals of the Prophet's (s) corpse, and hence their absence in the meeting for the election of the caliph, made it easier for Abu Bakr to win the position of caliphate.
  • Al-Shaykh al-Mufid summarized the reasons for Abu Bakr's victory as follows: the engagement of Imam 'Ali (a) with rituals of the Prophet's (s) corpse, absence of Banu Hashim in the meeting, and disputes among people of Ansar themselves.

People's Allegiance throughout Medina

When people in Saqifa Bani Sa'ida pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr, what led people outside of Saqifa to pledge their allegiance to him was the presence of the Banu Aslam tribe in Medina. Soon after the event of Saqifa, they entered Medina, populated its alleys and pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr. 'Umar is quoted as saying that "I was not assured of our victory until Banu Aslam arrived".

Al-Shaykh al-Mufid cited Abu Mikhnaf's report to the effect that Banu Aslam went to Medina at that time in order to provide some groceries for themselves. They were promised to be provided with groceries if they helped Abu Bakr's proponents. Thus they helped reinforce the allegiance to Abu Bakr by forcing people to pledge their allegiance to him, even by beating them.

Timeline of Imam 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) life
599 Birth
610 The first person who believes in Islam
619 Demise of Abu Talib (Father)
622 Laylat al-Mabit: sleeping in the place of the Prophet (s)
622 Hijra to Medina
624/2 Participating in the Battle of Badr
625/3 Participating in the Battle of Uhud
626/4 Demise of Fatima bt. Asad (Mother)
627/5 Participating in the Battle of Khandaq and killing 'Amr b. 'Abd Wadd
628/6 Writing the content of Hudaybiyya peace treaty
629/7 Victorious of Khiybar castle in the Battle of Khaybar
630/8 Participating in Conquest of Mecca and breaking idols by the order of the Prophet (s)
630/9 Successor of the Prophet (s) in Medina in the Battle of Tabuk
632/10 Participating in Hajjat al-Wida'
632/10 Event of Ghadir
632/11 Demise of the Prophet (s) and his burial by Imam 'Ali (a)
Three caliphs period
632/11 Incident of Saqifa and beginning of Caliphate of Abu Bakr
632/11 Martyrdom of Lady Fatima (a)
634/13 Beginning of Caliphate of 'Umar b. al-Khattab
644/23 Participating in Six-Member Council
644/23 Beginning of Caliphate of 'Uthman b. 'Affan
655/35 Beginning of his Caliphate
656/36 The Battle of Jamal
657/37 The Battle of Siffin
658/38 The Battle of Nahrawan
661/40 Martyrdom

Reasons for Imam 'Ali's (a) Refusal to Oppose Abu Bakr's Caliphate

At the time when the event of Saqifa was taking place, Imam Ali (a), 'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Muttalib and some Muhajirun were busy with the washing and shrouding rituals of the Prophet's (s) corpse. According to Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, Imam 'Ali (a) did not pledge his allegiance to Abu Bakr so long as his wife, Fatima al-Zahra (a) was still alive, that is, 6 months after the Prophet's (s) demise. According to 'Abd al-Razzaq, al-Bukhari's teacher, in his book, al-Musannaf, in addition to Ali (a), no person from Banu Hashim pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr during those six months.

Shiites' Questions about the Event of Saqifa

Shiites have a lot of questions about the event of Saqifa Bani Sa'ida, including the following:

  • Why and how did Banu Aslam arrive in Medina soon after the event of Saqifa? And why did they go to Abu Bakr and pledge their allegiance to him, instead of going to the mourning ceremony of the just deceased Prophet (s) or visiting other Muhajirun?

Shiites do not find the answers provided by Sunni scholars to these questions convincing, believing that they cast doubts about the legitimacy of Abu Bakr's caliphate. Moreover, there are other pieces of evidence that reinforce these doubts:

  • The denial of the Prophet's (s) death by 'Umar
  • 'Umar's prevention of people from bringing a paper and a pen for the Prophet (s) at his request in the last moments of his life (the Prophet (s) was probably going to write about his successor)
  • The selection of 'Umar as the next caliph by Abu Bakr

Some people have appealed to these pieces of evidence concluding that the allegiance with Abu Bakr did not happen out of the blue, rather it was a pre-planned plot. Some Shiite hadiths have referred to such a plot being planned during the Prophet's (s) life.